Bryn Jones

Discover how being involved in a sports club can have a really positive impact on the student experience

5 min read

We often think of university sports clubs with old traditions, behaviours and questionable morals, stereotyping some sports and causing new students to avoid them. But the reality is far from the days of initiations, heavy drinking, and comparatively little about the sport itself.

Being involved in a sports club can have a really positive impact on not only the first few weeks of a new student’s experience but long into the future. We understand that the initial Freshers' Fayre experience can be really daunting and intimidating for some students. It can also be a real pressure pot for the clubs themselves, trying to attract the same students to their sports club to secure funding and their membership targets. Even more daunting for the student when you have over 35 clubs trying to sign you up.

Give Me Sport

We have stepped away from this melting pot to create a more welcoming environment for both new students and clubs with a three-day sporting event called Give Me Sport. All our sports clubs offer fun taster sessions as well as trials for each sport, across consecutive days of sport, health and fitness taking place after Freshers’ Fayre. We know that sports club activity provides the opportunity to make like-minded friends and we aim to provide a platform for this. Give Me Sport removes the pressure on new students to decide on a club to join in a split second, and provides one message for all clubs to tell new students – come to Give Me Sport.

Sports clubs committees are unshackled from selling their club and can focus on the student, their experiences and what they are interested in. Committees love their sport, they have volunteered to keep the club running for the next year, they are passionate and knowledgeable and know student life. Removing sales pressures creates a much more personal interaction that starts their feelings of belonging. In an internal survey of our sports club members, 88% of 2,000 club members agreed being in a sports club enhances their feelings of belonging. 

Creating opportunities to try every sport allows less popular sports to benefit and increase their member base from people who would not necessarily join them. The taster sessions are a really important part of Give Me Sport to show there are three ways to get involved in club sport. Play, social sessions that allow you to play the sport for fun. Train, development teams and squads for those new to a sport or wanting to get into a team. Compete, for those with competitive aspirations who want to perform. The main focus is to encourage new students to join a club, any club and for any reason, to boost their sense of belonging. Students who are active in sports clubs are less likely to report feeling left out, feeling isolated from others and feeling like people do not know them (BASS, 2018). 

Sport and wellbeing

If we only achieved reducing students feeling lonely, we would be happy, but sport has so much more to give when it comes to the student experience. The pandemic has affected many students’ mental health during studies at A-level and at degree level, and we are seeing those coming to university this academic year. Mental wellbeing scores of students who were part of a sports club were reported higher than those not involved in sport (BASS, 2018), and our survey with 91% of respondents agreeing sports club activity had a positive impact on their wellbeing. Indeed the government recognised organised sport as key during the second lockdown and allowed students to keep training.

Sports have been a part of my life since I can remember. It has always been a great way to destress and meet new people. When I’m playing, I’m not worrying about anything else and that is one of the best feelings in the world.

Ana Carolina Bastos, University of Portsmouth Volleyball President 2021

Carolina, last year’s Volleyball President has created an incredible and inclusive culture within that club, welcoming students from all nationalities. Carolina led her women’s first team this year to win their league, the cup, and they beat Southampton in their Varsity match. The first team is made up of 11 nationalities, recognising how much sport can play a part in forming new friendships and making lifelong friendships. 

"Sports have been a part of my life since I can remember," she said. "It has always been a great way to destress and meet new people. When I’m playing, I’m not worrying about anything else and that is one of the best feelings in the world."

When I moved from Portugal to England for Uni, it was quite a daunting experience since I knew absolutely no-one. I tried to get involved in as many events as possible and that’s when I came across the sports club and decided to go to a few sessions. Volleyball had my heart from the moment I stepped into that sports hall – so many international people and such an amazing atmosphere, it felt like I belonged. 

It became my huge, amazing and dysfunctional family who I shared incredible moments and memories with. As a new student, I know how scary it is to be in a new city, a new country and how much it can affect your mental wellbeing. But you don’t have to face it all alone, get involved and push yourself out of your comfort zone and you will see how many opportunities will present themselves to you. Just gotta take that first step!"

Being, Belonging and Becoming framework and sport

The University’s Being, Belonging and Becoming framework, which has been adopted for students’ time at the University of Portsmouth, aligns perfectly with sport. It provides a starting point for students to find their feet with students that have already been there in a low-pressure environment. It provides a springboard for students to decide which path they wish to go down and feel a sense of belonging to the university and their group of friends. Sport increases confidence and allows students to expect to achieve better grades and feel confident in gaining employment within six months of graduating (BASS, 2018).

We're excited for the journey our sports clubs will take new students on in Being, Belonging and Becoming a part of the University of Portsmouth.

Author: Bryn Jones is Sports Marketing and Communications Officer at the University of Portsmouth.